Sunday Tandra and I happened to catch a show on MSNBC about a guy named Jay Maloney who, for a while, was this bigshot Hollywood agent. Represented all sorts of big names, had a limitless future ahead of him, etc. But he fell into alcohol and cocaine and although his friends tried all kinds of extreme measures to get him clean and stuff, he never could stay clean, and eventually he lost his job and stuff and hung himself in his bathroom.
At the beginning of the show they kept referring to this "terrible mental illness" that took over this guy and rendered him basically incapable of dealing with life, but they didn't actually name the disease until about 20 minutes into the show. Tandra and I were really stuck to the TV watching this, because I think we both realized that this guy's behavior and problems were like a mirror of Tandra's. Eventually they finally came out and said that this guy suffered from manic depression, or bipolar disorder.
Now this is something we've suspected for a long time, and although no doctor has come out and given her an official diagnosis that we're aware of, bipolar is one of the things she's being treated for, the main thing. Throughout the course of this show, they kept mentioning how important it was that this guy take his Lithium, and they kept illustrating what happened when he didn't. Tandra's doctor started her on Lithium just before her short stay at the hospital and I have to say, the difference in her has been incredible.
Watching that show and learning about bipolar disorder and how it affected this guy really underscored for me the validity of the idea that Tandra's alcoholism and addiction is absolutely, 100% a symptom, not the source problem. At this point I recognize that the source is her bipolar disorder. In fact, I'm not sure I should keep tagging these entries as "tandra's recovery", because although she's in recovery for alcohol, the main issue is her bipolar disorder. On the show they had a doctor, Kay Redfield Jamison, who is an expert on bipolar disorder (she wrote a book I want to get called "An Unquiet Mind", which Tandra says is a very good way to describe it). This doctor was talking about how an extremely common reaction in bipolar people is to use alcohol or drugs to try to self-medicate, and that the substance abuse often compounds the difficulty of treating the illness successfully. She talked about the behaviors that bipolars exhibit, the symptoms of the mania and the depression, and it was scary how accurately she seemed to be talking about Tandra.
Over the past few months (and longer, really) it's been nearly impossible to communicate with Tandra. She has had to distract herself, to focus her mind on something else, almost all the time. She would sit at the computer and play Spades for hours and hours on end. Trying to talk to her for more than a few seconds got me nowhere. We communicated just enough to survive, and that was it. Then she'd go out and drink and be gone all night. I was miserable. It was an awful existence.
Over the past week or so as she has been on the Lithium, she's like a different person. Last night we sat and talked, I mean really communicated, for half an hour. We could have gone longer but I had to go to sleep. And it wasn't just a disjointed, channel-surfing conversation. We stayed on one topic the whole time pretty much. This is unheard of for her. She's been smoking something like 4 or 5 cigarettes a day, instead of a pack. She hasn't played Spades on the computer since she got back from treatment. She's been awake and up and around every day when I come home for lunch. She's been cooking dinner for me. We talk. She's been laughing, something she hadn't done in a long time. It's wonderful - I feel like we are living somewhat of a normal life, which for me is a relief.
Tandra says she doesn't feel all that different, but when I illustrated to her the changes as we talked about it last night, I think she really started to see the differences in her behavior and began to understand how effective the Lithium really has been for her.
However, she really doesn't like the side effects. She says it makes her shaky, makes her brain kind of fuzzy and "metallic", prevents her from concentrating, and most significantly for her, she's gained some weight. Personally I don't give a damn about the weight gain if it means she's healthy, but it's really bringing her down that she doesn't fit into any of her clothes any more. Before she went out last night she was miserable that she had to put on some old "fat clothes". But when she came back home she was feeling good enough to actually admit the possibility that maybe she could become content with herself at that weight, which is something I hope can happen. I really want to see her healthy. But I'm not the one who has to experience that or the other side effects. I feel bad that she does.
At one point she swore she was going off the Lithium because of the side effects. I'm sure you can see why this scares the hell out of me. Bipolar disorder, even though it's kind of difficult to conceptualize it this way, really is a life-threatening disease. It can put you in such a bad place that you feel like suicide is the only way out, and that scares the hell out of me. I've been as close as I'd like to get to suicide twice already in my life, I don't want to get any closer. But last night she was talking about how maybe if there aren't any alternatives (and I haven't read about any yet) maybe she'd stay on it.
Last night she was more sensible and intelligent and logical and reasonable than I remember her being in a long time. It was really cool.
The other thing that really scares me is that bipolar disorder is genetic. Tandra got it from her mother, and so did her brother. Her mother will never ever admit that she has it, nor any other mental problem, but she does. Her brother Travis is just a psycho. Really, it's bad. But that's not why it scares me. It scares me because there's a really good chance that Kaien will develop this. (And Xandria and Nicodemus.) Basically, bipolar disorder is something I'm going to have to deal with and be close to for the rest of my life. I'm willing to make any sacrifice for my family and my loved ones, and if dealing with this is part of having my family, then I'll take it, but it's still scary.
In fact, according to the summary on Amazon.com of that book, An Unquiet Mind, the author discusses the implications of people with bipolar disorder having kids. The author has chosen not to. I'm curious and scared to read that part.
Anyway. Overall things are looking up and forward progress is being made, there are just some kind of heavy-hitting things coming to light.